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Your Women’s Leadership Program and Your Company’s Needs

July 24, 2019

Women’s leadership initiative

What are the best practices of successful women’s leadership initiatives? What are common challenges faced by organizations, and how do you overcome them? More important, how do you resolve issues specific to your organization?

On July 17 in Arlington, Va., American Management Association’s Women’s Leadership Center (WLC) discussed these issues during a breakfast briefing attended by human resources, learning and development, diversity and inclusion, and other department leaders from companies determined to build their women’s leadership pipeline. I served on a panel with Tonya Echols, an executive coach and leadership consultant at Vigere, and the event was moderated by Tammy Swed, an AMA learning solutions manager.

This was one of a series of briefings WLC has hosted since the spring for business leaders looking for guidance and a place to share their experiences about this topic. As people committed to seeing more women in leadership roles, they were eager to share their stories and receive feedback.

Asking the right questions about your women’s initiative

Here are some of the topics that were on participants’ minds:

How do we get participants engaged?

Find out what participants actually need, from both a skill and cultural perspective. What skills are needed—what are the group’s strengths and skill gaps? Get a good, high-level read on this by doing a simple self-assessment skill survey. This will let you know where the gaping holes are from an individual and a cumulative team, group, or organization level.

Further, ask questions of both individual participants and their leaders:

  • Find out what both parties feel the participant needs to work on. If you only ask the participant, or only the leader, your data may be inaccurate or incomplete.
  • Survey throughout the year to see if new learnings and skills are being applied and proving effective.
  • Send out anonymous surveys to get answers to more sensitive topics such as culture and leadership.
    Invite participants to in-person focus groups or discussions on topics that may bring such issues to the surface.

As a government agency, how can I convince management of the need for an initiative beyond reasons relating to revenue goals?

“Align your agency’s women’s initiative goals with the overall agency’s mission statement,” panelist Tonya Echols advised. “Always bring it back to your mission.” Two things to keep in mind:

  • Your agency needs to be representative of the people you serve, and that’s a diverse audience, including all people.
  • If all people don’t feel as if they belong, the likelihood of them sticking around is low. You will save significantly on recruitment costs and onboarding by preventing frequent turnover.

How can I include the men in our organization?

Create a plan to include them in your initiative in a meaningful way. A great way to start is to invite men to certain events to hear and share stories. Gaining awareness of the challenges that women face is crucial to getting men’s support and buy-in. Create trainings and workshops that include both men and women around cultural topics that your organization may benefit from, such as being aware of unconscious bias or the best ways to be an ally.

Lastly, you don’t have to have your women’s leadership initiative figured out 100% in order to get started. Identifying a measurable goal and mission is a great place to start.

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About The Author

Lauren McNally is director of AMA’s Women’s Leadership Center, overseeing the strategic direction of WLC, working with individuals and organizations to prepare women for advancement.

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